Lipizzan Horse Origin and Characteristics

The Lipizzan horse, or the Lipizzaner, is a breed that is associated with a Spanish riding school in Vienna, Austria. This breed is known for its movement and ability to perform classical dressage haute ecole, with a particular movement that creates “airs above ground.” For several centuries, this breed has been taught dressage with traditional methods at the same school.

Airs Above Ground is a movement where the horse raises both front legs to stand at a 30-degree angle with control. Some can perform the pesade, which is a 45-degree angle. Then the horse transitions to the courbette, which requires jumping on the hind legs while elevated. A transition to the capriole follows, which is a leap into the air as the forelegs are tucked underneath, followed by kicking out the hind legs while at the peak of the jump.

Lipizzans have been an endangered breed throughout much of their existence. Every time war sweeps through Europe, this breed tends to take the brunt of the punishment. By the end of the second global war, the Lipizzans were almost completely extinct. A rescue of a small herd by Allied troops during the war helped to preserve the breed.

Even so, there are just 8 stallions that are recognized as being foundation horses for the modern breed. All current Lipizzans can trace their lineage to one of these eight stallions and their names are reflective of that lineage.

With a population of more than 10,000 in nearly 20 countries, the Lipizzan no longer faces the same threats it once did. By knowing what this breed faced in the past, however, we can hopefully prevent history from repeating itself once again.

What Is the History of the Lipizzan Horse?

The Lipizzan as a breed began in the 16th century. The Habsburg nobility were looking to create a specific breed with unique traits, so they financially supported early stud farms around the Italian village of Lipica. That is how the breed got its name. 

The ancestry of the breed, however, can be traced to the 7th century. The Moors brought Barb horses into Spain as they settled into the Iberian Peninsula in the generations after the fall of the Roman Empire. These Barb horses were mixed with the local Spanish stock, creating several new horse breeds, including the Andalusian.

When the Habsburgs ruled Austria and Spain, they desired to have a horse that was powerful, fashionable, and agile. They needed the horse to have a temperament that allowed it to serve during times of war, yet be reflective of royalty for everyday purposes. Beginning in 1562, studs were established to cross Arabian, Barb, and Spanish horses. The offspring from these horses were then crossed with the Neapolitan and other Baroque horse breeds.

One stud farm was located in Kladrub, while the other was in Lipica. After the second crossing in the breeding program, the stock was exchanged between the two stud farms. This provided the Lipizzan horse with a solid genetic profile that has helped it to remain a relevant and healthy breed, despite its flirtation with extinction over the past century.

There are 6 classical dynasties that are recognized within the Lipizzan breed.

  • Conversano. He was a black Neapolitan stallion that was foaled in 1767.
  • Favory. He was a dun stallion, coming from the Kladrub farm, and was foaled in 1779.
  • Maestoso. He was a gray stallion, also from Kladrub, who was foaled in 1773. This lineage is also traced to Maestoso X, who was foaled in 1819.
  • Neapolitano. He was a bay Neapolitan stallion, who was foaled in 1790.
  • Pluto. He was a gray Spanish stallion foaled in 1765.
  • Siglavy. He was a gray Arabian stallion, foaled in Syria in 1810.

The breed associations for the Lipizzan Horse recognize two additional stallion lines. They are found in the US, Croatia, Hungary, and Eastern Europe.

Incitato is the first, who was a stallion with a Spanish ancestry. Foaled in 1802, he was sold to a Hungarian stud farm after being raised in Transylvania.

Tulipan is the second. He was a black stallion with a Spanish pedigree who was foaled around the turn of the 19th century in Croata.

Breed registries require a specific naming pattern for all Lipizzan horses. Stallions are given two names: one for the sire line and one for the dam line. There are up to 35 recognized mare lines in addition to the 8 stallion lines that are currently recognized. 

What Are the Characteristics of the Lipizzan Horse?

The average Lipizzan will stand between 14.2-15.2 hands high. Some can be taller than 16 hands, especially if the breeder is focusing on carriage-type characteristics for the horse.

This breed has a head that is noticeably long when compared to other breeds, supported by a neck that is arched and sturdy. The profile is typically straight, but some have one that is just a bit convex. The jaw should be deep, while the ears are smaller than average. A Lipizzan should have expressive eyes, flared nostrils, and a carriage that is proud, tall, and well-set. 

Withers for the Lipizzan are broad, muscular, and low.

The remainder of the profile is similar to what one would find on any other Baroque-style horse. It should have a chest that is deep and wide, with a muscular shoulder and a broader croup than other breeds. The feet tend to be smaller than average, but still quite tough. Legs are well-muscled, strong, and supported by strong joints. 

The Habsburg family had a preference for gray horses, so that color was emphasized in breeding programs. It is still the dominant gene in the modern breed as well. Many foals are born a darker color, often black or bay, and their coat transitions to a light color as they age.

Until the 18th century, however, other coat colors were quite common, including black, chestnut, dun, and bay. Skewbald and piebald coats were possible as well. These other coat colors are still possible, though rare. The Spanish riding school has a tradition of keeping at least one bay Lipizzan stallion and that tradition continues today.

Lipizzans are also known for maturing slower than other breeds, but this makes them a long-lived breed. The complete process to reach maturity can be up to 10 years for some of the horses. 

In Conclusion About the Lipizzan Horse

Lipizzan horses have starred in numerous films and television shows because of their distinctive appearance. They have competed at the highest levels in dressage and other show events. Numerous books and poems have been written about this breed, giving it an air of romanticism.

The Lipizzan may have been ordered by royalty and bred to meet specific preferences, but its agility, temperament, and willingness to learn make it an attractive horse for everyone today.